Driverless cars in London, solar power in Lisbon: Six European cities taking smart cities forward

Lisbon: one of Europe's smartest cities. Image: Getty.

The leaders of six major European cities have joined forces to explore how digital technologies can be used to improve the quality of life for their  citizens.

Sharing Cities, a new project led by London, Lisbon and Milan – with Bordeaux, Burgas and Warsaw participating as “fellows” – will boost the European smart city market by demonstrating that thoughtfully designed ICT-based solutions, based on common needs, can be integrated in complex urban environments. The six cities in this pioneering consortium will share ideas, know-how, assets and infrastructure, and involve experts, businesses and citizens in their quest for strategic ICT-based solutions.

The Sharing Cities project will last for five years, including two dedicated to monitoring its impact. The project draws on €25m in EU funding, and should trigger up to €500 million in private sector investment. As it develops it should also bring on board a further hundred or so municipalities from across Europe, and generate hundreds of new jobs.

The project will serve as a testing ground for new digitally enabled business models, which will prompt cities, industry and citizens to collaborate across cultures and borders. It’ll focus on a number of different work streams:

  • Changing behaviour and attitude to energy consumption through efficiency and conservation measures;
  • Implementing and testing sustainable e-mobility solutions;
  • Reducing emissions of air and water pollutants;
  • And increasing the supply of affordable social housing through new construction and the retrofitting of existing buildings.

The collaboration between the cities will be supported by an urban data platform built on open standards complete with a common reference architecture and shared service model.

Meanwhile, on the ground

Perhaps closer to home and easier to relate to is the plan to install intelligent street lighting systems that double as free wifi points. Electric car and bike sharing schemes, and even driverless vehicles, are also included in the plans. Across the board, the emphasis is on going digital – and going green.

In early January 2016, around seventy officials, experts and stakeholders from the six partner cities met in Brussels to launch the project. Eurocities hosted the launch event and, as a network of 135 local governments in over 30 European countries, we will enable the partners to share best practices, explore how to transfer these best practices into the local context, and help cities to choose the most efficient communications tools.

Each of the leading cities is designating one of their districts to act as a demonstration area. The Greater London Authority, for example, has designated one of its most strategic locations, the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The borough is home to over 250,000 people, and combines state-of-the-art attractions like the O2 arena with up-and-coming facilities for the local startup community.

Emphasising citizen engagement, Greenwich will undertake an extensive housing regeneration programme in cooperation with two local innovative SMEs. It plans to implement a low-carbon heat network to service new homes, and will investigate the potential to use waste heat. The council will launch a UK pilot on electric bikes and autonomous vehicles, and will expand its network of charging stations. By installing solar panels on homes, the council will aim to significantly reduce energy bills and carbon emissions.

Lisbon has chosen its historic 10km2 downtown area (population: 100,000) as the venue for a major ICT upgrade. The city’s focus is on refurbishing and re-inhabiting social housing districts, and promoting the use of photovoltaic and solar thermal systems to increase energy efficiency. Lisbon’s overall ambition is to implement an integrated energy management system, and also to use ICT tools to enhance it public transportation network. The widespread introduction of electric vehicles is also on the cards.

In Milan, the pilot area is a 216,000m2 brownfield and former railway yard in the Porta Romana/Vettabbia district, which is under complete redevelopment. Currently, 60 per cent of the city’s buildings have the lowest G or F energy class rating; Milan’s aim is to significantly improve this figure through innovative energy efficiency measures. Having adopted a “sharing policy framework”, the city will develop a comprehensive retrofitting intervention strategy based on public-private collaboration.

Meanwhile, the “follower” cities will do more than just listen and take notes. Bordeaux, a leader in the field of digital innovation and holder of the “French Tech” city label, wants to couple ICT use and sustainable development with its ambition to make cultural pluralism the cornerstone of social cohesion among its 750,000 inhabitants.

Burgas, Bulgaria’s fourth largest city with over 210,000 people, has been pursuing a number of major infrastructure projects, including an integrated urban transport system, a new waste management plant and a refurbished water supply and sewage network. For Burgas, drafting and implementing a responsible environmental policy is one of the project's key deliverables.

Warsaw, the largest city in Poland with a population of 1.7m, seeks to identify and eventually implement ICT-based solutions to help it reduce CO2 emissions and increase the share of renewable energy sources by 20 per cent by 2020. The digitalisation of the city's public transportation network and the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles are also on the Polish capital’s to-do list.

These ambitious plans inevitably raise questions, such as: can the six cities achieve all this in a matter of five years? As always, automatic progression is obviously not a given. But the stage is already set: these six cities are now learning to share – and sharing to learn.

Anna Lisa Boni is the secretary general of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities.


Tatton MP Esther McVey thinks Leeds is south of Birmingham for some reason

Great hair, though: Esther McVey. Image: Getty.

Earlier this morning, while everyone was focused on the implosion of the Labour party, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey decided it was the perfect moment to promote her campaign against High Speed 2.

A quick reminder of the route of the proposed high speed rail link. Phase One will run from London to Birmingham. Should Phase Two ever go ahead, it will split just beyond Birmingham to create a y-shaped network, with one arm running to Manchester and the other to Leeds.

The map McVey tweeted this morning suggests that she doesn't know this. But that is, at worst, the seventh worst thing about the map, because, look:

Let’s look at that a big more closely:

Yep. How many things are wrong with it? Let’s count.

1) Manchester is not east of Leeds;

2) Leeds is not south of Birmingham;

3) Both Manchester and Leeds are further from London than Birmingham, rather than, as this map suggests, closer;

4) To get from London to Manchester you kind of have to pass Birmingham, Esther;

5) There is no railway line that runs from London to Leeds to Birmingham because that would be a really stupid way round, what with Leeds being quite a long way north of Birmingham;

6) Should the government decide to boost the north by scrapping Hs2 and improving east-west lines instead, those improved east-west lines will not cross the proposed route of HS2 Phase One because they are quite a long way to the north of it.

Okay I'm going to stop there and get back to staring at the flaming bin fire that we loving call the Labour party. But for the record, Esther: I'm not taking advice on transport policy from anyone who doesn't know where Leeds is.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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